Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond at Vergara v. California

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As you recall from my most recent post, this past Tuesday (March 18, 2014 – “Vergara Trial Day 28“), David C. Berliner, Regents’ Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University (ASU), testified for six hours on behalf of the defense at Vergara v. California. He spoke, primarily, about the out-of-school and in-school peer factors that impact student performance in schools and how this impacts and biases all estimates based on test scores (e.g., VAMs).

Two days later, also on the side of the defense, Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond also took the stand (March 20, 2014 – “Vergara Trial Day 30“). For those of you who are not familiar with Linda Darling-Hammond, or her extensive career as one of the best, brightest, and most influential scholars in the academy of education, she is the nation’s leading expert on issues related to teacher quality, teacher recruitment and retention, teacher preparation, and, related, teacher evaluation (e.g., using value-added measures).

Thanks to a friend of Diane Ravitch, an insider at the trial, Darling-Hammond testified with the following as some of her highlights as they pertain directly to our collective interests on VAMboozled! here.

“On firing the bottom 5% of teachers…My opinion is that there are at least three reasons why firing the bottom 5 percent of teachers, as defined by the bottom 5 percent on an effectiveness continuum created by using the value-added test scores of their students on state tests, will not improve the overall effectiveness of teachers…One reason is that… value-added metrics are inaccurate for many teachers. In addition, they’re highly unstable. So the teachers who are in the bottom 5 percent in one year are unlikely to be the same teachers as who would be in the bottom 5 percent the next year, assuming they were left in place…the third reason is that when you create a system that is not oriented to attract high-quality teachers and support them in their work, that location becomes a very unattractive workplace…[we have]…empirical proof of that…situation currently in Houston, Texas [referencing my research in Houston], which has been firing many teachers at the bottom end of the value-added continuum without creating stronger overall achievement, and finding that they have fewer and fewer people who are willing to come apply for jobs in the district because with the instability of those scores, the inaccuracy and bias that they represent for groups of teachers…it’s become an unattractive place to work.”

“The statement is often made with respect to Finland that if you fire the bottom 5 percent [of teachers], we will be on a par with achievement in Finland. And Finland does none of those things. Finland invests in the quality of beginning teachers, trains them well, brings them into the classroom and supports them, and doesn’t need to fire a lot of teachers.”

“You can’t fire your way to Finland” (although this quote, also spoken by Darling-Hammond, did not come from this particular testimony).

While Students Matter (those financing this lawsuit, big time) twisted her testimony, again, like they did with the testimony of David Berliner (see the twists here), Darling-Hammond also testified about some other interesting and relevant topics. Here are some of the highlights from her testimony:

“On what a good evaluation process looks like….With respect to tenure decisions, first of all, you need to have – in the system, you need to have clear standards that you’re going to evaluate the teacher against, that express the kind of teaching practices that are expected; and a way of collecting evidence about what the teacher does in the classroom. That includes observations and may also include certain artifacts of the teacher’s work, like lesson plans, curriculum units, student work, et cetera…You need well-trained evaluators who know how to apply that instrument in a consistent and effective way…You want to have a system in which the evaluation is organized over a period of time so that the teacher is getting clarity about what they’re expected to do, feed back about what they’re doing, and so on.”

“On the problem with extending the tenure beyond two years…It’s important that while we want teachers to at some point have due process rights in their career, that that judgment be made relatively soon; and that a floundering teacher who is grossly ineffective is not allowed to continue for many years because a year is a long time in the life of a student…having the two-year mark—which means you’re making a decision usually within 19 months of the starting point of that teacher – has the interest of…encouraging districts to make that decision in a reasonable time frame so that students aren’t exposed to struggling teachers for long than they might need to be….But at the end of the [d]ay, the most important thing is not the amount of time; the most important thing is the quality and the intensity of the evaluation and support process that goes on for beginning teachers.”

“On the benefits and importance of having a system that includes support for struggling teachers…it’s important both as a part of a due process expectation; that if somebody is told they’re not meeting a standard, they should have some help to meet that standard…in such programs, we often find that half of the teachers do improve. Others may not improve, and then the decision is more well-grounded. And when it is made, there is almost never a grievance or a lawsuit that follows because there’s [been] such a strong process of help…in the cases where the assistance may not prove adequate to help an incompetent teacher become competent, the benefit is that that teacher is going to be removed from the classroom sooner.”

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